Netanyahu's Distorted Priorities

The prime minister's goals continue to revolve around security, settlements and Haredim; Israel deserves a different agenda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent decisions show that he remains determined to perpetuate the distorted priorities he followed in his previous term. Heading the goals of the Netanyahu government is the trinity of security, settlements and Haredim: Building a large and inflated military, led by a tier of officers who enjoy growing and bloated financial benefits; housing hundreds of thousands of Jews in the West Bank, so as to thwart the division of the land; and the cultivation of a Haredi "society of learners," whose sons are exempt from military service and employment. The priority given to these sectors comes at the expense of the rest of the public, which is forced to pay high taxes and suffer dismal public services due to a lack of civil investment,

The social protest and the subsequent Knesset elections aroused hope for a change in national priorities. Such change was promised by Yair Lapid, who was appointed Finance Minister - a position with great influence over the division of the national pie - after his impressive achievement in the last elections. But Lapid has failed completely.

Ignoring Lapid's opinion, Netanyahu again increased the defense budget, only a few days after he announced the construction of some 5,000 new housing units in the settlements. The achievement of Lapid and Naftali Bennett in establishing a coalition without the Haredim is also eroding, as can be seen in the proposal by Education Minister Shay Piron to expand the autonomy of the Haredi educational system, in return for a promise that they will teach math and English. From now on, every small Haredi community will have its own educational system, and it is hard to believe that Piron will succeed in supervising what is taught there.

Lapid did not demand that the extension of the term of IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz be made conditional on a deep cut in the pension benefits of the professional army - which threatens to bury budgetary stability underneath it. He did not threaten a coalition crisis if the flow of unnecessary money to the settlements was not halted and diverted to the good of the "middle class," on whose backs the Finance Ministry is riding. And, despite the cuts in child allowances and in a fraction of the yeshiva budgets, the promises to draft Haredim and impose "core curriculum" studies on the Haredi educational system have not been realized.

Israel deserves a different agenda, one that will guarantee its future as a democratic and prosperous country: A peace agreement with the Palestinians, the integration of its Arab citizens and civil investment in projects such as the light rail train in the Dan region, which would significantly improve the quality of life of millions of Israelis - projects that are always put off because of the construction of housing in the isolated settlements.

These goals are within reach. What is needed is just leadership that wants to change direction, and such leadership does not exist today in Israel.